Christie George sits down to talk human to me about how truth can exist in multiple forms, the role of interpretation, growing up with multiples truths, identities, and cultures, her love of travel, organizing communities, and the political dynamics and spectrums she constantly thinks about.
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Our Conversation with Christie George
(Transcriptions by Scribie.com*)
0:00:19 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay. Christie, let's get started here. I've actually known you for quite some time now. I think we've been out of touch but again, the reason I just mentioned when we were off air, is that I love doing this podcast so much because it's my perfect excuse to get time with people I really care about. So I just wanna say thank you for making the time today to hang out, and I love the new digs.
0:00:52 Christie George: Thanks.
0:00:52 Jeffrey Shiau: I love... And I can't actually wait to meet your kid, hopefully, sometime soon as well. And we, as a lot of the listeners know, start with the exact same question every single episode. And that is, what about humans strikes you the most?
0:01:14 Christie George: So I even knew what the question was and I'm still thinking about it. The thing that strikes me the most is how multiple truth can be, both for the same person as well as for different people. So what I mean is how the same situation, especially in this moment when we're talking about things like misinformation or fake news, the same situation can be seen so differently by two different people as one version of that. And then how even within ourselves, we can feel so many contradictory things at the same time and how that's totally valid.
0:02:11 Jeffrey Shiau: So you're talking about truths, not just differences across different people. So you have, for example, if there's something on the news about some crime that just happened down the street in the neighborhood. Five people are watching it. They might all have the same expression and the same reaction but how their... Are you talking about interpretation or?
0:02:37 Christie George: Yes, interpretation could be one way of saying it. Yeah, interpretation is a perfectly good way to say it, like you see the same thing and someone's like, "That guy got robbed," and then somebody else is saying like, "Well, that guy hit first," or something like that. And sometimes that's about context but ultimately, even if people have all the situational context, their personal context or their personal history leads them to some conclusion. And then even within ourselves, we might see a thing that's... Now we're using an example of someone seeing a crime or something and feeling both feelings of "someone should get punished for doing something" and "systems of punishment are inherently unfair." That both of those feelings can co-exist at the same time. So the up for me, the observation is just we want things to be simple but sometimes they're complicated.
0:03:40 Jeffrey Shiau: Right, and it's interesting that you're bringing up that we're also... I actually went straight to crime and then we're talking of punishment now 'cause it does seem like these different perceptions and where there's a lot of consequence in different perception, it always comes down to some sort of punishment that happens to one group of people versus the other.
0:04:08 Christie George: Yeah, definitely.
0:04:09 Jeffrey Shiau: And obviously, over the last few years, there's been a lot of discussion, a lot of tension, racial tensions, cultural tensions, especially in the US. As you know, not just the US, across the world. I definitely wanna dive into that a little bit more but I do want to ask what you mean by the multitudes of differences within yourself.
0:04:33 Christie George: Yeah, I'll give you a good example. I was just scrolling my news feed and watched this VICE video about...
0:04:41 Jeffrey Shiau: I love VICE.
0:04:43 Christie George: This is like our plug for VICE.
0:04:44 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah. [chuckle]
0:04:46 Christie George: Someone had shared this VICE video about different couples who are in interracial marriages over the years and it was based on some documentary footage of the lovings and the loving decision. And there were these interviews with couples who said something like... One couple said, "I am never unaware when I go outside that I'm in an interracial marriage or that people see it. I'm never unaware about it." And I was thinking about the fact that I'm in a mixed couple and somehow it's both true that I'm never unaware about it. And often I am unaware about it. I'm just going about my business and I don't know if that's because I've been in the relationship that I'm in for so many years or something like that. But somehow both of those things are true. I could kind of agree with both sentences. Sometimes I'm just going about my business not really thinking about how I'm presenting in the world. I'm just thinking, I'm just walking around like I mean.
0:06:00 Christie George: And then I could also agree with the sentence of like, "I'm never unaware that I am a woman or a person of color walking out in the world." So somehow both of those things co-existing at the same time so that's actually what I had been... I had just listened to your last interview and that first question and had just watched this Facebook video, [chuckle] and it was kind of an advice video on Facebook and was thinking, okay, yeah, the things are true all at the same time for people and in that case for me.
0:06:32 Jeffrey Shiau: Multiple truths. Can you talk about when you became very aware of that difference 'cause you and your partner, I think you've been... Yeah, I think you've been with your partner for over a decade now, or...
0:06:52 Christie George: Yeah, definitely for many, many, many years, and we went to high school together.
0:06:55 Jeffrey Shiau: Oh my gosh, okay. I didn't know that part. Yeah, it's interesting, the way you describe how there really is no attention brought to it in some situations, especially in the Bay area.
0:07:13 Christie George: Yeah.
0:07:13 Jeffrey Shiau: I would say that happens more frequently than not where there's no attention just because of the kinda liberal leaning and the fact that we're in a city, in environments that are more dense.
0:07:27 Christie George: Definitely.
0:07:28 Jeffrey Shiau: Where everyone's kind of almost forced to interact.
0:07:30 Christie George: Definitely.
0:07:31 Jeffrey Shiau: There becomes a... Almost a... Not a forced integration but a learning of one another and become... And realizing oh, hey, that's just another human and they care about the same thing and they care about taking care of their family and what not. But when are you made to be very aware? Is it when you're traveling or what are some moments in the city?
0:08:00 Christie George: And I guess that's sort of what I mean about truth being multiple at the same time. I think most of the time I don't actually think about it. We were... A couple weekends ago, some friends from college had rented kind of nice house up up in the woods for a bunch of families and at some point I looked around and realized that every kid was except for one was mixed and there were probably a dozen kids there. And so in that instance, it was totally normative and I was like, "Oh." And I think in the Bay area, one doesn't think about it that much because so many kids are mixed, not just the generation of my son but my generation also. I can't think of the last time I've really thought about it very much.
0:08:54 Christie George: Actually, I was in Copenhagen a couple weeks ago with my partner, my son and my mother who lived there in the 70s and she had immigrated from India in the 70s, had gone to Denmark. I guess Denmark needed nurses and she went with a kind of class of Indian women and some women ended up emigrating from Denmark and moved to the US but a whole bunch of women stayed in Denmark and married Danish men and then had Danish children. And I think it was... That was sort of a moment that I was thinking a lot about this sort of group of people that had left everything they knew. There's not a huge Indian population in Denmark and had mixed children and we were sort of doing the same thing one generation later and how much more challenging it might have been during their era than it was in ours.
0:09:56 Jeffrey Shiau: Where's your father from?
0:09:57 Christie George: My father's Indian also.
0:10:00 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay. Did they both immigrate to Denmark or...
0:10:01 Christie George: No, no, they met much later. So my mom went to Denmark totally on her own before she had met my dad.
0:10:07 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay.
0:10:07 Christie George: Yeah, and she was in her early 20s.
0:10:10 Jeffrey Shiau: Oh, I'm actually always been interested in this and I never knew 'cause your last name, your maiden name is, last name is George.
0:10:18 Christie George: My name is still George.
0:10:19 Jeffrey Shiau: George. Oh, nice.
0:10:21 Christie George: My son's last name is also George.
0:10:23 Jeffrey Shiau: Oh, really? Okay, great. So is George also your mom's or your father's?
0:10:30 Christie George: It's my father's first name so in the part of India where my parents are from in Kerala, they're Catholic.
0:10:38 Jeffrey Shiau: Is that south, north, where?
0:10:40 Christie George: South.
0:10:40 Jeffrey Shiau: South, okay.
0:10:41 Christie George: It's in the very, very south of the country. There is a tradition when women get married, they take their husband's first name as their last name as do the children. So if you ever meet anyone with a last name that's like George, John, Luke, Matthew, James, essentially apostles' names, you will know that they're...
0:11:08 Jeffrey Shiau: Like Russell Peters?
0:11:09 Christie George: Yeah. Exactly.
0:11:10 Jeffrey Shiau: The comedian. Okay.
0:11:11 Christie George: You will know that they are from that part of India and you can make yourself sound very worldly.
0:11:16 Jeffrey Shiau: Well, is it just this one city, town or...
0:11:19 Christie George: I am gonna say, "Yes," but actually I have absolutely no idea. I am sure that... I know it is true for this part of India. I have no idea if it's true for any other parts of the country.
0:11:31 Jeffrey Shiau: And you say your parents are Catholic.
0:11:32 Christie George: Yeah, they're Catholic. They're Malayali. That's the sort of the part of India that they are from. They're Christian, they're Catholic, they're Malayali. They speak a language called Malayalam.
0:11:47 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay.
0:11:48 Christie George: Although they didn't speak it very much when we were growing up.
0:11:50 Jeffrey Shiau: Is it... So like the way in Taiwan, the majority language is Mandarin.
0:11:56 Christie George: Yeah.
0:11:56 Jeffrey Shiau: But most people in Taiwan also speak Taiwanese.
0:12:00 Christie George: Yeah.
0:12:02 Jeffrey Shiau: Is that a majority language or is it in that region or is it...
0:12:05 Christie George: You know it's funny to even think about a majority 'cause I think India has more than 300 languages throughout the country.
0:12:10 Jeffrey Shiau: Same with China town, yeah.
0:12:12 Christie George: So I think in that area of that state, Malayalam is the language that everyone speaks. And my guess is that they speak English second.
0:12:24 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay.
0:12:24 Christie George: But I'd have to check if they... The extent to which people speak Hindi, for example, but I don't think so. I think it would be Malayalam, then English, then Hindi. I'm sure I should know the answers [laughter] to all these questions. It's making me think I should do some research into my own history.
0:12:43 Jeffrey Shiau: So, did your parents meet in the US?
0:12:45 Christie George: They met in India.
0:12:46 Jeffrey Shiau: They met in India?
0:12:47 Christie George: Mm-hmm.
0:12:47 Jeffrey Shiau: And then they immigrated... When did they immigrate here?
0:12:50 Christie George: In the 70s.
0:12:52 Jeffrey Shiau: In the 70s?
0:12:53 Christie George: They moved to the Bronx. I was born in the Bronx.
0:12:56 Jeffrey Shiau: Oh, nice.
0:12:57 Christie George: Bronx Lebanon Hospital.
0:13:00 Jeffrey Shiau: Did you live in New York for a bit?
0:13:01 Christie George: For two years, I lived in hospital housing. My mom was a nurse at Bronx Lebanon Hospital and they provided housing. And we lived in an apartment in the Bronx and then they, like many Indians, moved to New Jersey. [laughter]
0:13:19 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah. Newark? [laughter]
0:13:20 Christie George: Not Newark, not to Newark. To Bergenfield, New Jersey.
0:13:24 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay, cool.
0:13:25 Christie George: And then I mostly grew up in a town called Old Tappan, New Jersey.
0:13:28 Jeffrey Shiau: Old Tappan, New Jersey?
0:13:29 Christie George: Mm-hmm.
0:13:29 Jeffrey Shiau: Through high school?
0:13:30 Christie George: Through high school.
0:13:31 Jeffrey Shiau: That's interesting. So the way you're describing your life right now is like, "She was literally born with multiple truths." The way your mother journeyed to meeting your father...
0:13:41 Christie George: Yeah, I guess so.
0:13:44 Jeffrey Shiau: Being born in the Bronx.
0:13:46 Christie George: Yeah. I mostly like to say that to give myself street cred. [laughter] That's sort of about it.
0:13:54 Jeffrey Shiau: Christie from the block. [laughter]
0:13:54 Christie George: Right. Yeah, exactly. No, I'm very Jersey and proud of it.
0:14:00 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah. [laughter]
0:14:00 Christie George: Especially here, it always feels important to claim Jersey.
0:14:05 Jeffrey Shiau: Were you one of those tunnel kids who were like, "Oh that kid... "
0:14:07 Christie George: Yeah, I would definitely... Yeah, I guess I'm the sort of other side of the bridge and tunnel.
0:14:12 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah. That's nice, that's nice. But it's really... I actually never knew that about the last names, 'cause I was always curious. I was like, "Oh"... Knowing you, I always was like, "Oh, was she adopted?"
0:14:24 Christie George: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
0:14:25 Jeffrey Shiau: Is that actually a frequent...
0:14:28 Christie George: It's not so much... I think people say that if they look at my father's first name. So that used to happen to me in school a lot. I think now it's so much more common for parents to have different names. My name is different than my partner Colin's name.
0:14:43 Jeffrey Shiau: Right.
0:14:44 Christie George: But my dad's name is George Corian and my mom's name is Terry George and then my name is Christie George. So people would just think like, "Oh," that that wasn't my dad or that was some other person or something like that. I think that's common. His last name is Corian and so we used to get mail all the time, as a kid, from the American-Armenian Association because his last name is I-A-N. [laughter] So people would always think that we were Armenian before they saw us, obviously. But we would just get tons and tons of mail about local community events for the Armenian community also. Yeah, but it's less that they thought that we were adopted as much as, yeah, maybe my parents had been divorced or he was my stepdad or something like that. And really only when they would see mail or if they saw the name or... Yeah, just like, "Why does he have a different name?"
0:15:47 Jeffrey Shiau: Have you traveled back to your parents' hometown?
0:15:50 Christie George: I have not, not a ton. My sense is that sort of immigrants fall into a couple of different camps around connection to where they grow up. My parents did not spend a ton of time, when we were growing up, speaking to us in Malayalam or cooking Indian food. We did not go back...
0:16:13 Jeffrey Shiau: They didn't cook Indian food?
0:16:14 Christie George: They cooked Indian food sometimes, but as often, not Indian food.
0:16:20 Jeffrey Shiau: Right.
0:16:21 Christie George: Or going back every summer, something like that. Which I had a lot of cousins in New Jersey growing up really close by, and many of them grew up speaking Malayalam, grew up eating Indian food at home, went to India every summer. And I think my parents sort of happened to be in the camp of like, "We're here in the US now. I want my kid to speak English and I like different kinds of foods, so I'm gonna cook different kinds of food." My mom is an amazing chef, so cooks all different kind of food. And we went to India maybe once every four or five years. I think I've been maybe five or six times in my life. I went maybe three times as a kid, once when I was four, once when I was eight, once when I was twelve, something like that. And then when I was in college, I found this program that took Indian college students who wanted to learn more about their culture, back to India to do a service project for the summer. Actually, the guy who co-founded that organization, which was called VISIONS, is the outgoing surgeon general, Vivek Murthy.
0:17:46 Jeffrey Shiau: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I remember that.
0:17:47 Christie George: So he had started this program. I don't even know if it's still around, but it was so cool. I met all of these other Indian-American students and we kind of did a training in Florida and then spent the summer in Delhi doing HIV education in middle schools for students, and that was a great experience.
0:18:10 Jeffrey Shiau: How old were you again, you said?
0:18:11 Christie George: I was maybe 21.
0:18:15 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay.
0:18:16 Christie George: It was my junior summer.
0:18:19 Jeffrey Shiau: Junior summer?
0:18:20 Christie George: Mm-hmm.
0:18:20 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay. And say the school again.
0:18:23 Christie George: The program is called VISIONS.
0:18:25 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay.
0:18:26 Christie George: VISIONS Worldwide.
0:18:27 Jeffrey Shiau: VISIONS Worldwide.
0:18:28 Christie George: Yeah.
0:18:28 Jeffrey Shiau: Nice.
0:18:31 Christie George: And then actually, now that I'm saying that, I did go back one other time. I had been living in London for a couple of years after grad school, and I was about to move to San Francisco and thought, "This is one time in my life, we've quit our jobs, we're about to move to San Francisco, we've got this break where we have no obligations, and at least in distance are a little bit closer to India from London than we will be if we were here, so let's go." And so Colin and I went for a month and travelled around India, and at that point, both of us had gone to business school. And...
0:19:11 Jeffrey Shiau: Both North and South?
0:19:12 Christie George: We went to Bombay, so kind of middle and south. But both of us had a lot of Indian students in both of our grad school programs.
0:19:24 Jeffrey Shiau: Oh, cool.
0:19:25 Christie George: And so, what was cool about the trip was that we were able to go to India, and in Mumbai had all these classmates and friends that we could go visit, and spent a bunch of time with people that we knew as adults, and then after that just made our way south via trains and spent a week with my family. I had at that point one grandparent still living, which was my grandmother, and spent some time with my Mom and Dad's families.
0:20:11 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay.
0:20:12 Christie George: It was just great.
0:20:13 Jeffrey Shiau: And this was for a whole month?
0:20:15 Christie George: Yeah. We spent a month through the country, so in different places.
0:20:22 Jeffrey Shiau: When you went into that trip, was it more so like, "Let's just do it for fun?"
0:20:25 Christie George: Yeah.
0:20:26 Jeffrey Shiau: Did you come out of the trip 'cause a month is a good amount of time, right? Especially with your current partner, what was the feeling that you had coming out of that trip? Was like, "This is a good time," or was there a sense of, "I'm really glad that I'm taking in the roots of who I am"?
0:20:52 Christie George: It was sort of like neither... I was gonna say it's neither of these things and both of those things back to the point of truth being multiple.
0:21:00 Jeffrey Shiau: Truth. Yeah. Yeah.
0:21:01 Christie George: Sort of in the cities we were seeing business school classmates so it was just like fun, kind of unadulterated fun just like seeing friends, getting to see where they live and where they're from, and meeting their families and stuff like that, which is cool. And then we did some kind of real touristy, going to World Heritage sites, and stuff like that. And then spent some time at the beach and then spent some time with family. So I think for me what was nice about that trip was that we... It's not just that it was only one of those things. It wasn't just that it was an all-family trip or it wasn't just that we spent time with friends and never saw anything cultural, or we just did something cultural, we got to do everything. And I think a month gives you the time to do all of that.
0:21:53 Jeffrey Shiau: Have you always been in tune? You have a very relaxed, calm state that it always seems that every time I see you.
0:22:06 Christie George: That's great. I'm glad you think so.
0:22:06 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah, yeah. It always seemed like nothing's gonna faze you. Even as coming in today when you're like, "Oh," when I was talking about some of the weird system issues that we're having. You're like, "Oh, cool. Let's just write these notes down. Was that something that you've always had growing up? Or were you like, "No, I was actually really a hyperactive kid," or...
0:22:26 Christie George: No, I don't think I was particularly hyperactive. I think about it now because I've noticed that my own kid is very mellow. He's just like a mellow guy.
0:22:35 Christie George: And so it makes you think a lot about where that comes from; and it could come from nowhere, he's his own person, right? But...
0:22:42 Jeffrey Shiau: Well, Colin's a pretty mellow dude. [laughter]
0:22:43 Christie George: Yeah. Yeah. So I was sorta thinking like, "Ugh, maybe we're just mellow people." I think in general on the spectrum of being high-strung or relaxed, I think in general, I think I'm a fairly even keeled person where it takes a lot for me to freak out.
0:23:07 Jeffrey Shiau: Have you always been... What was the moment like growing up when you're like, "I wanna make sure I'm travelling and seeing things, and exploring, and doing, and getting myself out there and not going necessarily it's... I think a lot of... Especially the Indian and Chinese immigrants, and I think that came during the late 70s, my parents were actually part of that camp of immigrants that came from Taiwan and landed in the Bay Area when the South Bay, when Apple was literally just a small company and there are literally apple orchards everywhere and things like that. I guess... I just forgot what I was about to say. No, in terms of just being... Were you always drawn to wanting to explore and do you want to instill that in your son as well?
0:24:05 Christie George: Oh, yeah. I can't think of a particular moment but it is true that I wanted to travel from at least a young age, I don't know, my teens or something. If I had the opportunity to go to some place, I would. I went to Spain when I was in high school for a short trip and for graduation, I went to London with a good friend. And my kid has already traveled quite a lot. I don't know if he's an adaptable person or it's made him adaptable but he's been to a film festival and we spent a month in Mexico when I had parental leave and my partner also had parental leave. So, it is the end of my leave and the beginning of his. We decided to overlap and the three of us spent a month in Mexico.
0:25:05 Jeffrey Shiau: Awesome.
0:25:05 Christie George: And it is awesome and it's made me really think a lot about the privilege of having the opportunity of that leave. Both of us have really supportive companies that we work for. And, really, people need that time. It was such a special time for our family to get to know each other and to be able to be together in a different environment. And Nico has been to Copenhagen and to Stockholm and I hope that he continues to like it. He seems like he likes it but he's two. So, he kind of likes most things.
0:25:44 Jeffrey Shiau: Talking about a privilege because I think a lot of times, for myself, growing up in the South Bay, and I think a lot of immigrant parents come in here, they came in scraps, right? At least, I know my parents came with the scraps. They landed in the middle of nowhere, Indiana, spoke zero English, got their way to California in a Pinto.
0:26:10 Christie George: Yeah.
0:26:11 Jeffrey Shiau: And, eventually, now were able to raise both my sister and I. Kind of talking about the multiple truths that we hold within ourselves, the multiple truth that we see people talking about, and perceiving and receiving, and interpreting, stressing nowadays. Not even nowadays, I think this has always been a thing. But when people are bringing up privilege, what are you talking about when you're bringing up privilege?
0:26:45 Christie George: Yeah, the specific context I was thinking about now was around parental leave. So, I got five months of parental leave, and that was amazing. It was totally amazing.
0:27:00 Jeffrey Shiau: That's... Isn't that Sweden status or...
0:27:02 Christie George: Not quite Sweden status.
0:27:04 Christie George: There are the year level, I think. But I had done a ton of research around various parental leave policies, both within the technology industry and within the sort of progressive organizing community in which new media ventures kinda sits at the intersection of. And I had asked all of these birth parents about their own experiences and, almost, to a person. Actually, one person had said, they went back to work after 10 days, and they worked from home and it was just, they had to do it. But, almost everyone I knew who had taken three months off wished they had taken longer, told me they wished they had taken longer. So, I was like, "Okay. Well, that's sort of some information and I can always go back sooner if I want to, or if I feel like I need to." And I definitely could not have gone back. Physically, I don't think I could have gone back after three months. And at the five-month mark, I was definitely ready to go back. I don't, personally, I didn't want more time but five months is an incredibly generous amount of time by US standards. And if I...
0:28:24 Jeffrey Shiau: What is the minimum? Isn't the minimum... I heard with some, I guess it's one month?
0:28:32 Christie George: I think that the average US leave is two weeks.
0:28:37 Jeffrey Shiau: That's insane.
0:28:38 Christie George: Completely insane.
0:28:38 Jeffrey Shiau: You're talking about, saying you couldn't go back within three months because you're physically...
0:28:41 Christie George: Yeah, yeah, yeah, totally.
0:28:43 Jeffrey Shiau: Healing and there's people going back within two weeks?
0:28:48 Christie George: Yeah. So that's the privilege that I had to do that and the absolute unfairness of that, just it kinda blows my mind. Now, after having gone through the experience, I think, beforehand when I was researching parental leave policies and it was such an abstract thing. And it felt more like an HR policy sort of research task that I was doing versus after having gone through labor and giving birth and needing leave. I really feel so strongly about it. New Media Ventures actually supports an organization called PL+US: Paid Leave for the US. That's around not just parental leave but family leave because we are increasingly a society that is taking care of those that we love. So, little kids, older parents, sick family members and the fact that only some people get access to that. Both for financial reasons, for job security reasons, not everyone has the same access to that. It just seems so utterly unfair. I feel really passionately about it because I felt the benefit of it and believe that, yeah, more people should have access to that benefit. I don't know how much reading you've done about this topic, but I think it's in the news a little bit more but it is also...
0:30:33 Jeffrey Shiau: About parental leave.
0:30:34 Christie George: About parental leave, particularly. But it is also a policy area where the US lags behind in this kind of crazy way. We're one of maybe three countries or something in the world without a national family parental leave policy.
0:30:55 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah. I think the only thing that I've seen are the kinda the data aggregations, where they show everything in the chart. And the US is always ranked 50th. Or it's always in one of those blogs where they're making fun of the US for always saying, "We're the best." It's like, the only thing we're the best at is I think, people in our prisons or something like that.
0:31:18 Christie George: Oh geez.
0:31:20 Jeffrey Shiau: But yeah, it's... I don't know. You have me thinking a lot about truths and now about privilege. 'Cause perception and truth has actually been something that I've been obsessing over.
0:31:36 Christie George: Oh, really?
0:31:36 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah. It was really... I was like, "Wow, this is such a coincidence," because I've been obsessing over this over the last three months, basically. About perception, specifically, when something is communicated. Whether it's a verbal communication, a physical communication, anything. And specifically, how something is received and something is then relayed.
0:32:04 Christie George: How do you mean?
0:32:04 Jeffrey Shiau: I'll give an example. Let's say you're in a theater, there's a stand-up comedian. Or let's just say... Yeah, there's a stand-up comedian and they're telling jokes. Everyone's laughing usually. Majority are laughing, they find it funny. But, is it to say they're all laughing for the same reason? Maybe. Most likely, not. If we were to go, and literally, survey each person on why they laughed; maybe half of them will say for one reason, half of them will say for the other reason. And then you go in to those 50 people and ask them more specifically about the same reason. And then you start realizing, actually, within those 50 people there's also divide of maybe five different groups of oh, the same reason's actually not for the same reasons. It's actually for some other sub-reasons of why they're actually laughing. Because they experienced this or they have... The lens in which they saw that joke, or whatever, is completely different.
0:33:05 Christie George: Totally.
0:33:06 Jeffrey Shiau: Right? So this interpretation and perception and it's... I was actually at this dinner once and in the Bay area, consciousness is this buzz word that I'm just like "Ugh", every time I hear it, it's like, "God, don't talk to... " But...
0:33:24 Christie George: That's when the Jersey in me comes out.
0:33:25 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah. We were at this dinner and people started talking about consciousness like, "Oh yeah, consciousness... " And then everyone's like... There's literally five people in the group nodding and smiling and agreeing with what this person is saying. And then I actually said, "Wait. Before we move on, I'm actually really curious. What do you mean by consciousness? What are you talking about?" And then that person will start saying... I was like, "Can you explain more?" And then they would explain more and then everyone in the circle, complete disagreement of like, "Oh, you thought about it that way?" And I was like, "That's really interesting just how people do that."
0:34:05 Christie George: Yeah.
0:34:06 Jeffrey Shiau: And it just makes me think more and more about these assumptions, and about these truths, and about privilege as well. I think what we realize... What I've become, starting to realize is perception is, essentially, just comes down to how people are digesting and receiving, and relaying information, how they're receiving it, whether it's through their eyes, their ears, their nose, their mouth. And combining it with privilege, it's starting to make me think about how perception is also a privilege.
0:34:54 Christie George: Yeah. Definitely. It kinda reminds me of this thing that I've been obsessing about recently around kind of... I'll give you the example. I'm not sure what heading to put it under, but around things like critique of culture. If you go on to Rotten Tomatoes to try to figure out what movie you wanna see that weekend. You look for good scores. And recently, I had learned about the gender demographics, sort of the reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes and was just like, "I wouldn't expect a 70-year-old white guy and I to have the same taste in movies." Not good or bad. We just would have different tastes in movies. But sometimes, when we're looking at sites like Rotten Tomatoes, and I'm not saying that everybody there is a 70-year-old white guy, but we're sort of taking the aggregate percentage of those reviews as...
0:36:04 Jeffrey Shiau: Truth.
0:36:04 Christie George: Some truth as opposed to the aggregate of a very specific type of person. And, somehow, we don't add those qualifiers unless this site were all women of colors or something. If Rotten Tomatoes were a site of women of color film critics, it would be the women of color from critics site. But because the site is mostly white men, we just talk about it like it's film critics.
0:36:38 Jeffrey Shiau: And different levels of privilege?
0:36:40 Christie George: Yeah. Yeah. Definitely.
0:36:42 Jeffrey Shiau: And with different levels, there's multiple truths?
0:36:43 Christie George: Yeah.
0:36:45 Jeffrey Shiau: I love that you're bringing that up 'cause literally last night, so there's one Rotten Tomatoes movie that was... I think it was a splat, a splat tomato, and that recently came out I think this year. The new Power Rangers movie, right? It got horrible reviews. And I was like, "You know what?" And I decided to actually watch it last night and I was actually blown away.
0:37:11 Christie George: No way.
0:37:12 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah. So as an Asian-American male, I was curious 'cause I was like, "Oh! The black ranger is a Chinese-American guy," and then... Although in the commercials and during the press where they kind of talked about it, all the press again, like you're saying, most of it are middle-aged white men reviewing it, they're talking about all these like, they don't like the gimmicks, and all these things, and making these comparisons that don't really mean anything. But then I watched it as an Asian-American male and I was like, "I actually really liked this movie," and saw it as an opening or possibility of trying to break through this glass ceiling for a lot of minorities in film.
0:37:54 Christie George: Yeah.
0:37:55 Jeffrey Shiau: Right?
0:37:55 Christie George: Yeah.
0:37:56 Jeffrey Shiau: The only question mark I had about it is the Power Rangers that were in it, the actors were ridiculously good-looking.
0:38:05 Christie George: Yeah. [chuckle]
0:38:05 Jeffrey Shiau: To the point where I was just like, "Whoa! Let's try to get a little... " [chuckle]
0:38:11 Christie George: I'm not sure we're gonna win that battle any time soon in Hollywood.
0:38:15 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah. But it was literally, you have an LGBTQ Latina woman, you have a half Indian/African, half white woman. You have a white male that is actually kicked off football team and he's actually sticks up for the...
0:38:38 Christie George: I had no idea.
0:38:40 Jeffrey Shiau: Stands up against the bully.
0:38:41 Christie George: Yeah.
0:38:41 Jeffrey Shiau: And you have a black male that is on spectrum, Asperger's, and he is a super nerd...
0:38:51 Christie George: These are power rangers?
0:38:52 Jeffrey Shiau: These are the power rangers in this film.
0:38:54 Jeffrey Shiau: I was blown away. And the Chinese-American male, he has a single mother. He is extremely poor. I think he works in some auto shop, and he speaks Mandarin in the film as well. And I was just...
0:39:09 Christie George: Wow.
0:39:09 Jeffrey Shiau: And everyone in the film, I was also thinking, "Oh! I bet you, the white guy is gonna get all the screen time." And then, I watched it. I can legitimately say everyone got equal screen time. Not only that, but I would say the Latina girl and the Chinese guy got the most screen time. And I was...
0:39:32 Christie George: That's amazing.
0:39:33 Jeffrey Shiau: I was shocked. I was like, "Holy... " And everyone got their moment. That was really emotional. There were a lot of cheesy moments. Yeah, it's a freaking Power Rangers movie.
0:39:41 Christie George: Totally. [chuckle] So, that's so interesting to me 'cause it's like, you were able to see something in that movie that some majority of critics were not able to see. And I think, in some ways, the fact that the critical layer of culture, holes in that layer have been made by any one of us could be writing movie reviews and saying what we think. Means that we have, in some ways, more access to an alternative viewpoint that says, "Actually, the Power Rangers movie is great", but at the aggregate level, we're still not quite there, but yeah, it's like your experience shows. There's an audience out there for reasons that we might not get to see all the time.
0:40:39 Jeffrey Shiau: Right. And it's interesting 'cause you have... I don't know if you've read "Sapiens"? Incredible book. That's the one book I always recommend to everyone.
0:40:53 Christie George: Great!
0:40:54 Jeffrey Shiau: It's the only actually book that I recommend and he was like, "Do you recommend any book?" There's no other book I said I would actually recommend except for Sapiens.
0:41:00 Christie George: Amazing.
0:41:00 Jeffrey Shiau: Because that actually brings up these things about truths and perception and fact. And one thing the author says from the beginning is, literally, most of the things in the world right now are fantasies or imaginations from the human mind. Most of the things are not real including economy. Money is not a real thing. Just like what is considered as a social norm? There is no such thing as social norm. It's literally decided by the imagination of humans. So...
0:41:40 Christie George: Yeah. I always think about that in terms of, maybe, what we think of as normative is not normative at all. If we think about... Yeah, there being the demographic shifts in this country mean that what will ultimately be normative is not what is normative now if we can sort of put power into the hands of more people to tell their own stories or to share news from their community or any of the other things that we basically have such a limited view of the world on now because of who's telling the story.
0:42:23 Jeffrey Shiau: Right. And I guess... Do you feel like you were guarded or have guarded from your own... Do you ever have a conflict with your own personal truths or viewing truths or has it always been like... 'Cause we were talking about how you're so chill. Has it always just been like, oh, you're receiving and just understanding and just trying to understand it from an objective standpoint? Or do you ever feel like... Is there ever something where you're like, a conflict like, "Man, this is really creating some cognitive dissonance within me"?
0:43:01 Christie George: Yeah, definitely. I don't... I feel like a relaxed person in general, but I think I have all of the angst that all of us are walking around with. I actually have a lot of... I feel really neurotic actually about sort of the mixing of personal and professional life in a way that... It's one of the reasons why this podcast interview made me much more nervous than if I were just being interviewed about my job. And so I have thought a lot about this year. I have an intention this year of trying to figure out how to get over that or interrogate why that is.
0:43:49 Jeffrey Shiau: A fear of bringing your personal life into your work or...
0:43:52 Christie George: Yeah, or mixing those two things.
0:43:55 Jeffrey Shiau: Is there something about your personal life or like, "I'm not secure... I'm insecure about this about myself," or...
0:44:04 Christie George: No, no, no, it's not that at all. In many ways, I think it would be probably better for everyone or something. Maybe I have some sense of either sort of what professionalism looks like or... Yeah something like that that has me keeping my work life fairly separate from my personal life. I think that's just not true for lots of people. Particularly because I work in politics and politics attracts a kind of person who has sort of personal... A real passion about a personal belief that then funnels into their work. So maybe they're passionate about doing anti-racism work or something like that. And maybe the boundaries between their personal feelings and their professional work are just much thinner than in my case. So it's less around insecurity around my personal life as much as maybe it's more insecurity about sort of... Yeah, seeming less professional or something like that.
0:45:24 Jeffrey Shiau: Who instilled professionalism in you? Was it something that you've always seen like conduct just from your parents? Is it just seen from different friends and colleagues that you've met throughout the years?
0:45:43 Christie George: I don't know where it comes from. I could see drawing...
0:45:45 Jeffrey Shiau: It's very concise. [chuckle] Very precise, I think.
0:45:49 Christie George: Yeah, yeah. I could see drawing a line between from something like being a good student to being professional or something like that.
0:46:00 Jeffrey Shiau: Were you a super nerd growing up? [chuckle]
0:46:02 Christie George: Yeah, I'm a good student kinda person. I don't particularly identify with nerd culture, that's not exactly my... That's not the... But totally good student, good athlete.
0:46:19 Jeffrey Shiau: Work hard.
0:46:20 Christie George: Yeah, totally. So I think that's one line. I think it's easier for men to mix their professional and personal lives without having any consequences. You see it all the time where... I don't know just sort of behavior that would be totally tolerated. I don't know. I just saw a picture of a politician, a woman politician from college where she's at a party drinking. It's a picture that hundreds, thousands, millions of people have had taken of them and yet somehow it seemed to have some impact on her political career.
0:47:09 Christie George: You can only imagine there are politicians now who have current pictures of them sort of doing stupid things and it doesn't affect them. I think there's to a certain extent in all of the ways that you just sort of have to be better if you're a woman or a person of color. I could see that being true. Although I don't think about it. That's not so conscious, it's more like... There wasn't some moment where someone was like, "Oh, as a woman, you're gonna have to be more professional," but now that we're talking about it, I can imagine that to be true.
0:47:47 Jeffrey Shiau: You're making me think... Is it because you're made to think about it more often because of the way not just people in real life, not just people who are in positions of power whether it's a job, whether it's just even in family structures but especially the narrative that media weaves, it's holding accountability on you rather than, let's say, a white male politician. 'Cause when you just mentioned it, I was like, You know what? I actually just remember two weeks ago, there was a white male politician that was literally on stage at a rally making a sexual advance to a woman in the audience...
0:48:50 Christie George: Gross.
0:48:51 Jeffrey Shiau: On the microphone and everyone was just laughing in the crowd. So I'm just like, "Okay, what just happened there?" So he is being celebrated for making that comment and the majority, as long as the majority reinforced it in our "okay it," and I'm guessing in the audience it was a large majority were white male about his age, maybe, it's okay.
0:49:23 Christie George: Yeah. I just think the bar is higher for a woman in that example, like in political office. The article I was reading was about a woman candidate and there's some picture from 20 years ago that she was drinking a beer at a party and it was it had nothing to do with anything, really, and then you sort of think of that example and... I don't know. I can imagine the narrative on that is, "Oh, well, he was just joking," or... So yeah. I just think that there's a sort of higher bar for professionalism, in general, for women or for people of color and it's not the active reason why that is attention for me but...
0:50:16 Jeffrey Shiau: Why isn't an active reason?
0:50:17 Christie George: Why isn't it?
0:50:18 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah.
0:50:19 Christie George: It's just that's like not what I'm thinking about in the moment where I'm like, "Oh, my gosh. I'm nervous about this podcast with Jeff." I'm not nervous about it because I'm like, "Oh, my gosh. What if I reveal something about myself?" It's not as active as that, I think it's more subconscious than that. Are you suggesting, maybe, it should be more active? [laughter]
0:50:40 Jeffrey Shiau: Oh no, no. Actually, I think, maybe, I was asking about whether it was more active frustration that you have, the fact that you have to... Yeah.
0:50:51 Christie George: Oh, I see what you're saying. I don't even feel that frustrated by it, because as I said, I actually believe that... I deeply believe and, in some ways, it's because my partner is this way, that the more as humans, we are able to bring our full selves to everything that we do, both our professional lives and our personal lives, the better the world will be, the more complete we will feel, the more powerful our work output. It's just something that I struggle with so I think it's a good thing and I'm working on it.
0:51:23 Jeffrey Shiau: That is you. You're a freaking machine. [laughter] If you could, I guess, travel... You don't have to travel back in time 'cause you have a young human being in your family now. If there's one thing you really hope that your son doesn't have to live amongst, meaning in this world by the time he's an adult, you're really hoping this issue is a non-issue, right?
0:52:13 Christie George: Yeah. We were just talking about this in the office yesterday. I don't know if it's the issue I most believe but it's the thing that's at top of mind. If I really could just wave a magic wand, I would want racism to disappear. It feels like we have much more interesting and more... There are just so many other problems to solve and it feels like such an utter waste of time and challenge that has so many downstream effects. And wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to worry about it? And you could say that about sexism, about many isms but just particularly recently in a moment in which we are... A friend of mine had been talking about explaining the Movement for Black Lives to her daughter and having to say out loud, that statement was so powerful, that black lives matter. But the idea that we are even in a situation where we have to say that feels like, "Where did we mess up?" So it would be really nice if we figured that one out by the time my kid grows up. I don't think that's gonna happen but we're working on it.
0:53:49 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah. That last statement you just made just breaks my heart and the fact that it is most likely not gonna happen and at the same time we were going back to just perception and truths. The truth is institutional slavery in the US didn't end that long ago.
0:54:21 Christie George: Oh my god, completely, yeah.
0:54:22 Jeffrey Shiau: It's a blip. It's less than I think a fourth of one Chinese dynasty.
0:54:30 Christie George: Yeah, yeah. I see you sort of think about US history in the context of these other cultures. Yeah, and in many ways we're more delusional about our ability to "move on" from things that are actually very much real and present but it's when you imagine having to explain things like that to a kid, they make no sense.
0:55:00 Jeffrey Shiau: Does it break your heart when you have to explain it to your son?
0:55:02 Christie George: Yeah, definitely. I haven't had to explain anything yet 'cause he's too young but when I was listening to this friend talk about explaining to a five-year-old... "Some people... " Actually, what I loved about it was... A friend, she's white, her daughter is white, and her daughter's response was, "We're not white, we're beige, kind of pink."
0:55:34 Christie George: I was like, "That's right." It sounds so crazy that there's all this stuff that we have based on when you have to explain it to a child, "There's some people who are white, and some people are brown, and some people are black, and then there's all these things that happen because of that." Sounds completely inane to me.
0:55:54 Jeffrey Shiau: Do you ever worry about your son having to face questions or even just public taunts if let's say you, Colin who's a white male, and your son we're traveling in public, let's say in a largely rural white majority town, and it's not uncommon to be heckled at. Do you ever...
0:56:20 Christie George: Until you asked that question, we've never had that experience, so I'm sure the first time it happens it will be, if it happens, we will have the experience of that multiple truths, both being devastated and I don't know, somewhat pissed off and puzzled or something like that.
0:56:44 Jeffrey Shiau: And you've never personally just been individually heckled?
0:56:50 Christie George: Have I been individually heckled? Heckled is such a specific thing, so I don't know if I've been heckled but I have had somebody...
0:57:00 Jeffrey Shiau: Just verbally harassed or something.
0:57:03 Christie George: I think when I was a kid once we were walking through our town and sort of had someone say in a stage whisper style that there were too many Indians in the town. I have been very lucky in not having had, this even crazy to even call it lucky, very many direct experiences of overt racism. I also believe that most racism is not overt anymore, and we think about racism as this thing as being heckled and that just... I don't know. Not that many people are doing heckling, crazy people are doing heckling. The things that are more insidious are all of the ways that racism, sexism, all the isms play out in ways that are not heckling, but are not picking people for things or not hiring people or... And I'm saying all of this and having led a fairly privileged life of not having a ton of direct experiences but know that there are all sorts of ways that's both unique and if maybe heckling didn't happen all sorts of other things happen.
0:58:29 Jeffrey Shiau: Do you ever imagine how you would have to explain it if you were to face it with your son?
0:58:38 Christie George: Yeah. Just recently I started thinking about it because we were talking about this, how do you explain the value of the Movement for Black Lives and then thinking about how do you explain, "Oh, some people won't like you because of the color of your skin." I didn't actually grow up in a culture in which my parents said that to me.
0:59:00 Jeffrey Shiau: Neither did I.
0:59:00 Christie George: So, in many ways I have a lot of confidence around that or not... I don't have this internalized shame or something that I think some other people do and I don't actually know which is better. To pretend it doesn't exist and therefore you grow up thinking you're awesome or acknowledge that it exists so that you're able to face it when it happens. I sort of keep me, it's like read the literature about what one is supposed to do as a parent. But I never had a conversation with my parents about it, also didn't have a ton of experience that I really directly knew of that was directly racist. But I'm thinking about what I should say to my son.
1:00:00 Jeffrey Shiau: Right.
1:00:00 Christie George: And I haven't figured it out yet. [chuckle]
1:00:02 Jeffrey Shiau: Let's hope you don't have to and if it does with your super even-keelness...
1:00:09 Jeffrey Shiau: You'll be able to do it.
1:00:12 Christie George: We've done away with racism I thought, right?
1:00:15 Jeffrey Shiau: Hopefully.
1:00:15 Christie George: In this conversation.
1:00:16 Jeffrey Shiau: [chuckle] Oh, man. As Dr. King said, "That is the dream." We're actually... You've been very, very generous with your time today, and I wanna thank you for that. We end every conversation also with the exact same question, and that is: Ultimately, what's the point of all this?
1:00:55 Christie George: The "this" being life? I think the point of all of this is for all of us to feel self-actualized, and we're doing what we were put here to do, and that it feels internally consistent.
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